Rules and Regs: Federal Pilot Program to Benefit Rural Communities With Poor Sanitation

Also in this month’s regulations update, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality suspends an installer’s license for improper installations that endangered public health

Rules and Regs: Federal Pilot Program to Benefit Rural Communities With Poor Sanitation

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The Biden administration launched a pilot program on Aug. 2 to help communities improve their onsite infrastructure.

The program is a joint project of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, and money will come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It allocated $55 billion for water projects including $23 billion for the drinking water and clean water state revolving funds, $7.1 billion for Western water (which includes water recycling and reuse), and $1.8 billion for the Indian Health Service water and sewer program to fund domestic and community sanitation.

Eleven rural communities across the country will be sites for the pilot project: Lowndes and Greene counties in Alabama; Harlan County, Kentucky; Halifax and Duplin counties in North Carolina; Raleigh and McDowell counties in West Virginia; San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona; Doña Ana County and Santo Domino Pueblo in New Mexico; and Bolivar County, Mississippi. People in these places lack basic wastewater management, news reports said.

Communities and tribes in the program will have help in solving their wastewater problems through creation of community solution plans, technical engineering support, and aid in pursuing funding.

Funding isn’t enough to solve the problems, Sherry Bradley, director of the Alabama Bureau of Environmental Services, told CNN. Installers must know what they’re doing, she said. "I've seen a lot of onsite failures because someone's brother or neighbor installed a system. Constant training of the homeowner is also needed."

New Hampshire homeowners no longer able to design their own onsite systems

Homeowners in New Hampshire will no longer be able to design their own septic systems as of Aug. 30 under a law signed by Gov. Chris Sununu earlier this summer. Previously, homeowners could do design work without a permit if they provided a reason why they were eligible to do so.

The new law also has two other provisions. One, state officials must formulate rules for the design of complex systems by professional engineers. Two, the law sets a deadline for state approval of onsite applications. Within 15 days of receiving onsite plans and application fees, the state must either approve the plans or send a notice requesting additional information. If the state doesn’t send the notice in that time frame, plans will be considered approved. When the state receives any additional information it requested, it will have 15 days to approve or deny plans.

Oregon DEQ offers onsite system funding for wildfire victims

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will provide up to $15 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to help wildfire victims whose onsite systems were damaged.

Craft3, a community lender, launched a program in July that offers grant and loan programs, reported KTVZ news. The DEQ provided $2.1 million to Craft3 and will provide money to other aid organizations.

The first state request for onsite grant proposals went out on June 15, and there will be another request in the fall if money remains.

“This one-time funding is a real game-changer to assist rural property owners with the cost of repairing or replacing septic systems,” said Deb Mailander, onsite program manager for DEQ. “The long-term environmental, public health and economic benefits from installing new septic systems and technologies is significant.”

Virginia sees surge of applications for repair funding

As of mid-July, the Virginia Department of Health had already budgeted nearly half of its funding for a program that helps low-income families repair failing wells and onsite systems.

Lance Gregory, director of water and wastewater services, said the surge of applications reflects the degree of need across the state, reported the Virginia Mercury. Assistance has been limited in the past, and although the state approves about 2,000 repair permits annually, he said, many people don’t report failing systems.

The Virginia General Assembly allocated $11.5 million in federal rescue funding for onsite and well work, and the program launched in February. Within the first four and a half months, the department received 192 applications for 202 well and septic projects, which are expected to cost roughly $4.6 million.

Loans available for system upgrades near Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts

People around Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, are now eligible for low-interest loans to upgrade onsite systems to nitrogen-reducing systems. Eligibility comes from language in the new state budget, reported the Cape Cod Times.

State residents were previously eligible for such loans only when their onsite systems were failing. Loans are available through local boards of health. Interest rates vary from zero to 5%, and loans can be repaid over the course of several years.

Oklahoma DEQ suspends installer’s license for improper installs

Improper installation of aerobic onsite systems led to the suspension of an installer’s license by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

Garrison Shann installed at least 70 systems incorrectly in Payne and Noble counties, news reports said. Of those systems, 15 pose an immediate threat to public health and were part of an emergency order. The DEQ ordered Shann to stop installing systems, to bring the 15 systems into compliance, and to pay a $31,500 penalty plus past due permit fees.

Records show Shann agreed in 2017 to purchase Aerobic Systems of Stillwater, but since May has not made payments for the business, reported public radio station KOSU.

The DEQ said its investigation into Shann was continuing.

Former Hawaii state senator sentenced in wastewater corruption case

J. Kalani English, former majority leader of the Hawaii Senate, was scheduled to start a 40-month prison term on Aug. 6 after being convicted in a corruption case related to wastewater legislation.

Federal prosecutors allege that between 2014 and 2021, English accepted $18,305 in cash from Milton J. Choy, president of H2O Process Systems, an industrial cleaning company. English admitted to managing legislation about the state’s cesspool replacement program so it would benefit Choy’s company. He also provided intelligence to the company, reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

English must forfeit $13,305 in bribes. He had already turned over $5,000. U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway fined English $100,000 during his sentencing hearing.

“Kalani English sold the power and prestige of his position as majority leader of the Hawaii state Senate and betrayed his oath as an elected representative of the people of Hawaii,” U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson told Mollway. “We submit this betrayal has caused an even greater crisis in confidence in our elected officials.”

Choy is tangled in a separate federal corruption case and helped FBI agents with the arrest of English. Also caught in the wastewater corruption case was former state Rep. Ty Cullen, once chairman of the House Committee on Finance. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 20.


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